The six remaining Oceanian teams now know their pathway towards the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ after the Stage 3 draw was completed in Auckland, New Zealand on Friday.
Perennial continental favourites New Zealand will have to overcome 2012 nemesis New Caledonia if they are to reach the two-legged OFC decider. The pair were drawn together in Group A, along with the rapidly improving Fiji.
Group B features recent OFC Nations Cup runners-up Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup representatives Tahiti.
New Zealand and PNG were slotted into positions A1 and B1 respectively for the draw as finalists at last month’s OFC Nations Cup, which was won by the former on penalties following a tense scoreless draw in the final.
Anthony Hudson’s Kiwis, having won their way to the 2017 Confederations Cup, will be wary of their group and in particular New Caledonia. *Les Cagous *eliminated the Kiwis from the 2012 Nations Cup with a 2-0 victory, while they enjoyed little luck in a 1-0 loss in the same fixture last month where the All Whites eventually regained their continental crown.
“We were open to playing any of the sides and were always going to prepare properly, whoever we faced,” said Hudson. “More than anything, I think we’re just pleased the draw has now been set and we can plan the rest of our campaign, we know who we’re facing and can now plan accordingly.”
On the other side of the draw, PNG will face Tahiti and Solomon Islands having earned a 2-2 draw and a 2-1 win respectively against those same opponents in the recent Nations Cup on home soil.
Stage 1 saw Samoa advance from a four-team group, before they and Vanuatu were eliminated during the Nations Cup, which doubled as Stage 2 qualifying.
Stage 3 matches will commence in November, with further matches scheduled for March and June 2017.
The winner of the subsequent Oceania final will advance to the intercontinental play-off in November 2017 against the fifth-placed South American nation.
New Zealand are the most recent Oceania nation to feature at the World Cup, with the All Whites exiting at the group stage from South Africa 2010 despite being the only side to remain unbeaten at the 32-nation tournament.